Great Egret

Great Egret

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Celebrating Tallgrass Prairie

Today, June 3, 2017, is officially National Prairie Day. At least it is in the USA, where the idea originated through the Missouri Prairie Foundation and was officially made a National Day a couple of years ago. Of course tallgrass prairie is a main part of the Missouri landscape, as it is throughout the mid-western USA.

There are a number of high quality remnants across the mid-western US. The features change regularly, and there is always something impressive about them from April through September. I've been to dozens of remnants there over the years. Some of my favourites places during my digital photography era include the following, many of which are in Missouri:
Indian Paintbrush on Diamond Grove Prairie, MO

Indian Paintbrush and Wood Betony on Coyne Prairie, MO

Pale Purple Coneflower on Golden Prairie, MO
 Besides the spectacular flora, there are spectacular fauna as well.
Loggerhead Shrike

Regal Fritillary (Endangered)

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
 Of course there are the mega fauna, including these bison on the largest protected tallgrass prairie remnant in the US: The Nature Conservancy's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in northeastern Oklahoma, which is almost 15000 hectares (37,000) acres in size....

Bison enjoying fresh grass following a spring burn
....and Elk on an eastern Nebraska prairie.

Treaty Line Prairie, MO

Wa-Kon-Tah Prairie, MO
 It is hard not to be impressed with this pink form of Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadii), shown here on the Tucker Prairie in north central Missouri. This site is immediately adjacent to an interstate highway.
This next photo shows Tucker Prairie, with Wild White Indigo (Baptisia alba) scattered across the prairie and Interstate 70 in the background. It is located about 20 km or so east of Columbia.

Here in Ontario, tallgrass prairie does not have the same high profile since it is a relatively small part of the landscape. However in parts of Ontario, such as the tri-county area of Essex, Chatham-Kent and Lambton, it has been a significant part. It has also been a smaller, but still significant vegetation type in places farther east, including the greater Brantford and greater Toronto areas and still farther east in the area of the Rice Lake Plains.

Walpole Island in early July

Walpole Island in early August
Yesterday, Marie and I went to Windsor, partly to explore the Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve. It was a major focal point of my career in many ways, beginning in 1976. It has changed some since the time it was first obtained by MNR in the early 1970s. Regular fire is a critical part of its health. Fire in the form of prescribed burns has been challenging to implement as regularly as it really needs, and it is looking shrubbier as a result. In Ontario, tallgrass prairie looks decidedly green at this time of year, but by mid-July and until early October, the colours and hues diversify considerably.
Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve
In spite of the lack of regular fire, there are some fascinating vegetative elements that can be found throughout the growing season, just not in as great abundance as they should. Two of the rare plant species of interest on this visit were:
Two-flowered Cynthia (Krigia biflora)

Purple Twayblade (Liparis liliifolia) an endangered orchid species

This is what OPPNR has looked like at times following a fire, with fabulous numbers of Dense Blazing-star in peak flower. Dense Blazing-star is a Threatened species, although it can be abundant in the limited places where it occurs.

This next species, Gray-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) will be fairly common in another few weeks.
Aside from some of the significant plants, birds are also a significant part of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Both Bobolink and Henslow's Sparrow, both officially Species At Risk in Canada, may be found surviving to some extent in pastures and abandoned fields on the agricultural landscape, but will actually thrive in a healthy tallgrass prairie.

Henslow's Sparrow, digiscoped on an Ontario planted prairie in 2005
Dickcissel has been found nesting on Ontario prairies, grasslands and abandoned fields. This is another feeble attempt at digiscoping, this time on a Dickcissel, discovered on a planted prairie, in 2005.
Ontario's tallgrass prairies deserve more recognition, and that is happening slowly. They are a scientific treasure-trove of diversity. In just the last few years, more than two dozen faunal species new to Canada have been recorded in the Ojibway Prairie area alone!

I encourage you to get out and explore a tallgrass prairie near you!


  1. Middlesex would have quite a few decent sites for prairies should anyone take the initiative to protect and plant.

    1. There are a few small prairie patches in Middlesex, mostly on private land. The farther east one goes, the less overall plant diversity there is, however. There is lots of potential for sites to be planted, as you said. However in keeping them ecologically correct one would have to be very careful as to what species mix to plant, and that is a topic for a whole other post! I co-authored a book on that about 15 years ago.

  2. How beautiful, and what diversity in your Prairies. I'm so glad to hear that you have a Prairie Day.Love and blessings,Paula

    1. Hi Paula. So good to hear from you. These prairies are indeed wonderfully diverse places to have to explore.